Rather than seek acclaim within his specialty, Dr. Roger Lange focused on treating one cancer patient at a time. Then, at the end of the day, he went home and spent time with his family.
“The work that he did was untainted by external rewards,’’ said Dr. Glenn Bubley, who started working with Dr. Lange in the early 1980s. “He was well known amongst the cancer community but not among hoity-toity specialists worldwide.’’
In the community of the seriously ill, Dr. Lange sported a Groucho Marx mustache that made him instantly recognizable, and he offered unhurried compassion each time he spoke with a patient.
“He never rushed you,’’ said Julie Korostoff, an attorney who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and was his patient until his death. “He really talked to you and listened to you and didn’t talk over you. He addressed every question with a mix of honesty and seriousness.’’
Dr. Lange, who had been chief of the division of hematology-oncology at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and also was on the staff of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, died Jan. 19 in Beth Israel of complications of multiple myeloma. He was 68 and lived in Brookline.
Bubley said it wasn’t that Dr. Lange had more time than other doctors to spend on his patients. He just made sure to answer all their questions thoroughly and let the conversation unfold without patients feeling rushed.
“He would calm them down, get them to have a realistic, but more positive view of their illness,’’ he said.
Korostoff said that when she was first diagnosed, she was given plenty of advice on what to eat or drink. When a colleague told her green tea would help, she asked Dr. Lange.
“He said the only thing that green tea will do is make your pee green,’’ she said. “It’s a typical kind of comment: Frank, but funny and honest.’’
Dr. Lange, who also taught at Harvard Medical School, loved to make jokes, Bubley said, but they were almost always at his own expense.
“He came from nothing,’’ said Bubley, who added that no question would prompt Dr. Lange to pass judgment on his patients.
“It was well known in our medical center that he had this capacity, this incredible patient-centered approach to medicine,’’ he said.
Born and raised in Chicago, Roger Frederick Lange went to South Shore High School, where he played baseball and basketball.
He met Lois Platt when she sat behind him in a seventh-grade classroom. In eighth grade, they worked together on the student council, and remained close friends until their senior year, when he asked her to the prom. She had turned down another offer, hoping he would ask her.
“I think his friends said ‘What are you waiting for?’ ’’ she recalled, laughing.
In 1961, when they graduated from high school, Dr. Lange went to Harvard College and she went to Brown University in Providence. They wrote letters two or three times a week and visited frequently.
“By senior year I think we were committed to being together,’’ she said. “We were just good friends, and that carried us along until we were old enough to start thinking about getting married.’’
When they both graduated, she went to Columbia University in New York City for a graduate degree in social work, and he attended Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1969.
In 1967, after she finished graduate school, they married and lived in Boston while he finished medical school and a residency.
They moved to Maryland for two years while he worked at the National Institutes of Health, then lived in St. Louis for a year before returning to Boston.
Dr. Lange began growing his thick mustache around the time their son, David, was born. Soon after, their daughter, Nancy, was born.
“Once he grew the mustache we were a family,’’ she said. “I don’t even think of him without it.’’
David said that for his wedding, the family stocked plenty of Groucho Marx masks, and guests who donned them wanted to pose for photos with Dr. Lange.
Throughout his life, Dr. Lange made exercising a priority. During summers, he and his wife rode bikes and in the winters they went cross-country skiing.
“He was always one to say, ‘Just a few more miles,’ ’’ she said.
When their children were in high school, the family, along with her sister, went to France and biked throughout the country.
“One time in France we were lost in fields of sunflowers, and we had to get to the place we were staying before they stopped serving dinner,’’ his wife said. “I just followed him, and we pulled into the place about 10 minutes before the dining hall closed.’’
Dr. Lange and his wife also played tennis, and he coached his son’s Little League baseball team in Brookline.
For Thanksgiving each year, Dr. Lange made a barbeque turkey on the grill on the back deck of the Brookline house where his children grew up and where he and his wife were living when he died.
“It could be snowing, but we’d go out there and have a drink and bring in the turkey,’’ Bubley said.
“He was such a family man,’’ Bubley said, adding that Dr. Lange “never missed the kids’ soccer and basketball games. He was there for them and his wife through all their pursuits. When I had my children, who are about a decade younger, I tried to emulate that style.’’
Throughout Dr. Lange’s career, his wife said, grateful patients sent him gifts by way of saying thanks.
About 10 years ago, the Langes awakened to find their driveway clear of snow that fell the night before. A few snowsotrms passed before they realized the driveway was cleared by a patient who knew where they lived and wanted to repay Dr. Lange for his help.
During the holidays, Dr. Lange’s daughter said, he always received “more gifts than he could handle.’’
A service has been held for Dr. Lange, who in addition to his wife, Lois, his son, David, of New York City, and his daughter, Nancy, of Jamaica Plain, leaves his brother, Paul of Rehoboth Beach, Del.; and two granddaughters.
As Dr. Lange’s health declined, his wife was overwhelmed by the response from the cancer community.
“One man said that he saw cancer as an excuse to go see Dr. Lange,’’ she said, recalling the response of her husband’s patients. “They consider him a close personal friend. With my own loss, my heart goes out to them, too.’’